My friend leans forward, gripping her latte with both hands. "He looked so peaceful, lying there on the couch with an afghan bunched under his head," she said. "I could hear him snoring slightly -- just like he did when he was a baby. Sound asleep. And you know what? I just wanted to smack him on the head and scream 'Get up! Get up! Get your lazy ass up and do something!'"
Now my friend -- we'll call her Jane -- truly loves her adult son. She loves him so much that she worked a full-time accounting job plus took in freelance clients to ensure that he could finish college without huge student loans. She loves him so much that she supported his right to "follow his passion" when he switched his major from engineering to humanities in his junior year. And yes, Jane loves her son so much that when he got his B.A. with no job prospects in sight, and no plans to go to graduate school, she welcomed him back home with open arms.
But that was almost a year ago. Her pride-and-joy now eschews "menial" jobs like flipping burgers, but has no problem complaining about the economy while he takes advantage of Jane's "bottomless" refrigerator. He also enjoys her cable TV and Internet, laundry facilities, utilities, health benefits and cell phone family plan ... just as he did in high school.
Jane is trapped with a so-called boomerang kid. According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of today's 18 to 24-year-olds moved back to their parents' homes within the past few years. Other surveys say 85-percent of college students expect to move back home for a while after graduation and are facing a bleak job market. Meanwhile, their parents -- many of whom have begun to shift their attentions to the physical and financial needs of elderly relatives -- are at a loss. As Jane says, "What am I going to do? Tell him to go live in his car...that I insure, by the way?"
I have great sympathy for Jane and all the other boomerang parents. According to a recent NPR report, my hometown of Newton, MA has a high percentage of "generation jobless" graduates who return home. And since I'm an eldercare professional, I also see many members of the sandwich generation try to cope with three generations of adults living under the same roof. (Sometimes I even see four generations in the house, which in pop demographic-speak is a "club sandwich.")
When Jane and I graduated from college, we would never have dreamed of moving back home. We treasured our hard-won freedoms. We signed on a slew of roommates, lived in a modest (read: rundown) flat, ate noodles and put up with the occasional cockroach or rodent infestation. We did what we had to do to maintain our independence. Then again, our tech needs were pretty much limited to a hard-wired telephone, a stereo and if lucky, a TV that worked. Our children consider the lack of cable TV, a laptop, high-speed Internet access and a smartphone with an unlimited data plan to be unbearably primitive. And as they quickly discover, those things cost money.
I've been lucky. My own adult son inherited his mother's frugality and independent spirit. He graduated from college two years ago and rents a very inexpensive apartment in Boston. We enjoy having him close, but not too close. My daughter just completed her freshmen year in college and I've got two garbage bags full of clothes sitting in the stairwell -- where she deposited them two weeks ago -- to prove that she's home for the summer. Will she boomerang after the cap and gown come off? Who knows? Three years is an eternity in young-adult time. For now, I'm happy to have her around. She fills the house with music, makes our orderly life much less tidy (and more fun) and I can't wait to go home tonight to watch a Netflix movie with her. One of the great things about living with your adult children is being able to do things together that you both actually enjoy.
As for my friend Jane, she's come up with a temporary, but effective, solution to her problem. She's "hired" her son to help out her parents. In exchange for room and board and a small amount of spending money, he spends a few hours a day with her parents, drives them to appointments, shops for them and maintains their lawn. And, since he's giving Jane some relief, she no longer fantasizes about slapping him silly.
When dealing with adult offspring, boomerangers or not, small victories mean a lot.
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